We’re Toronto electricians, so no one needs to tell us that it gets cold here. We’re used to the switch from air conditioners to heaters, but as we continue to install electric vehicle chargers, we are learning that our cold winter climate also causes some changes for EVs. Does cold winter mean that you can’t drive an EV? Absolutely not! There are a few important things you should know about driving an EV in the winter though.
Why does an EV suffer in the cold?
Simply speaking, an EV is only as good as its battery’s chemical reaction and for those of us who need to brush up on our high school chemistry, chemical reactions are slower in the cold. A slower reaction means that an EV battery won’t produce the same electrical current on a cold day as it would on a warm one.(1)
The other, and more varying, factor is your driving behaviour in the winter. Using a ton of accessories, like blasting the heat, will cut your range down dramatically.
What kind of EV range difference are we talking about here?
An EV’s range in the winter largely depends on you. Green Car Report looked at both the Tesla Model S and the 2012 Nissan Leaf to see what the range difference really is in the winter. Without using the heater, they say that you might still get around 130 km with a single charge, but when you get heat and other accessories going, you could go all the way down to 80 km. They also brought up a good point that many EVs are tested in cold conditions to make sure that they will be safe in all kinds of weather. In other words, EVs are generally safe in the winter as long as you do your part.(2)
Tips for Maximizing Your Winter EV Range
- Plug your EV in! – A freezing cold battery needs to use a bit of its charge to keep itself warm. Eliminate this draw by plugging your battery in and allowing the charging station to keep the battery warm.
- Pre-condition your car before you unplug – Everyone likes to get into a warm car. Turning your heater on before you unplug and head out has an added benefit when you have an EV. Heating up your cabin while you’re still plugged in will save the battery power it would have taken to heat it up on the road.
- Use seat heaters if you can – Seat heaters will drain your EV battery much slower than your cabin heater will. This is because most electric cars use resistance heaters for the cabin air and they draw a ton of energy.
- If possible, keep your car inside – A garage is an EV’s best friend. The warmer you can keep your car, the better (although fully heating your garage isn’t necessary).
- Allow for a little extra charging time – Recharging your EV battery might take a little bit longer in the cold and you certainly don’t want to start your trip without a full battery if your goal is distance!(3)
There’s cold – and then there’s Canadian cold
As we already mentioned, Canada has its own kind of cold and while all of these tips are helpful, the big question is whether or not someone commuting to and from Toronto can drive an EV in the winter. According to CBC News, extreme cold will impair an EVs range, but not enough to affect the way that most Canadians commute. Some of this data comes from a Winnipeg resident who tracked his Mitsubishi i-MiEV range throughout the winter. He usually gets 155 km in warm weather, but averaged 103 km in the colder months. On a -25 C day. the Mitsubishi i-MiEV’s range dropped to 76 km, which is actually still reasonable for the average Canadian’s commute of 30 km.(4)
I know what you’re thinking, “People commute into Toronto from Hamilton. How are they supposed to get home?” That’s where public charging stations come in. These EV charging stations allow EV owners to charge while they’re at work so that they can start their trip home with a full charge.
But cautionary tales certainly exist
The biggest trouble with the change in an EV’s range during cold months is that there really isn’t a trustworthy way to tell exactly how the cold will affect your range. Our best advice is to play it safe. Don’t try to push your range’s limit by embarking on a road trip in the dead of winter. New York Times’ writer John M. Broder experienced just this during a frustrating test drive of a Tesla Model S in the winter and found himself losing power and calling a tow truck thanks to unreliable range estimations.(5)
The moral of the story? Save the road trips for warmer weather or at least wait until there are charging stations well within your range. In the meantime, use our tips to get the most out of your EV charge in the cold weather.